Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Brian Greenspun is taking some time off and is turning over his Where I Stand column to others. Today’s guest columnist is Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International.
We are entering a new era of Las Vegas — one marked by growth, job creation and, of course, innovation.
In this new era, we will surely expand our status as the global epicenter of entertainment. Hainan Airlines has announced it will begin regular flights from mainland China to Las Vegas, bringing 170,000 new visitors and creating $200 million in economic impact. My own company — in partnership with AEG — just opened the T-Mobile Arena, which has brought 250,000 incremental visitors to the Strip in addition to the 100,000 attendees that have been to the MGM Grand Arena and Mandalay Bay Events Centers this year. This past spring, the NHL became the first major professional sports league to put down stakes in Las Vegas by making the arena home to its newest expansion team — and the mighty NFL may soon find its way to our desert town.
By any measure, including our city’s own impossible standards, these are incredible achievements. But I believe we are poised to do and be even more.
Despite our well-known “What Happens Here Stays Here” brand, the fact is this is a sophisticated city where serious business gets done and perceptions of Las Vegas are changing. More than ever before, our role as a center of commerce and a significant contributor to the national gross domestic product is becoming well understood far beyond the borders of our state. It’s why some of the world’s leading technology companies elect to unveil their most important products or make their most headline-grabbing announcements here, at CES. It’s why the NHL decided to make a home here. It’s why the NFL — an organization that has had a long avoided Las Vegas — is considering the idea. It’s why for the first time in a long time, the voices of our industry are playing a powerful role in this election, regardless of which side you’re on. These examples are proof that Las Vegas has become a legitimate player in America’s mainstream entertainment industry.
This recognition is significant. It translates to vastly more jobs and careers that provide a meaningful pathway to the middle class and beyond. It means better education and easier recruitment of top talent. It means robust infrastructure and greater access to leading experts in the fields of health and wellness. It means less economic volatility and a better life for the next generation.
Las Vegas is at a tipping point.
The Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee, created by Gov. Brian Sandoval, is in the midst of the most critical deliberations among business and civic leaders that I’ve experienced since making this my home. In fact, they may well be the most important discussions among the leaders of this community in the last two or three decades. And while questions like “should we do a convention center renovation?” or “should we do a stadium?” may make for interesting headlines, they significantly minimize the scale and complexity of the issues before us. Let me clearly address my position on these particular projects:
Having an NFL team in Las Vegas is an exciting idea on many levels, most essentially because it will further cement this destination as truly peerless in the scope of its entertainment offerings. The modernization of the Las Vegas Convention Center is a proven economic necessity, one that becomes that much more crucial as we add incredible entertainment offerings and shed the tired and outdated perceptions of our past.
I would love to see us achieve success on both these fronts and believe we can, but there are serious considerations that need to be debated thoughtfully and vetted responsibly. The decisions we make today fundamentally define the trajectory of this region and the entire state of Nevada. They either propel us forward or drag us back. As responsible leaders, we are compelled to exercise a measure of discipline and caution in evaluating decisions of this magnitude. And caution is not the same as opposition.
The infrastructure committee’s unanimous support for the renovation, modernization and expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center is a vital moment for the entire state — and this unanimous recommendation must be upheld by our Legislature. It cannot be sacrificed in the pursuit of any other project the committee is considering because it is proven to yield a significant economic return. Our facility is antiquated, vastly inferior to the experiences occurring all around it, and our competitive position in the convention market — one that fills room-nights during the midweek and creates thousands of jobs and community services — is at risk. This is a fact proven by countless conversations with the largest conventions that help prop up our economy. A modest expansion is needed to avoid a dramatic loss of shows now and during the full renovation process, which will take years to complete and is already delayed by more than a decade. The cost of doing nothing goes well beyond the loss of existing business and includes the loss of vast opportunity to drive economic growth in this destination. Choosing to do nothing is, in my view, nothing short of failure.
The good news is that we don’t need to choose between projects Las Vegas wants and projects Las Vegas needs if we engage in cautious, thoughtful deliberation and carefully define project terms that ensure the public will not bear the burden of risk as has been the case in so many cities around the United States. We have made progress on these conversations, and I am optimistic that we can reach an end result that allows Las Vegas to expand our incredible entertainment offerings and shed tired and outdated perceptions of our past.
Cautious vetting and thoughtful deliberation may not be a hallmark of Las Vegas’ past, but it must be the way we operate if we are to secure growth for our future.